Notes From Barbados – Stories of Connection and a Shared History

In the early eighties, the late country music singer/songwriter John Denver wrote a love song called Shanghai Breezes. Denver wrote the song for his wife Annie during a month long tour through China. The tender lyrics remind us of how we are all connected regardless of where we are on the planet and the many differences that divide us. And the moon and the stars are the same ones you see; it’s the same old sun up in the sky; and your voice in my ear is like heaven to me; like the breezes here in old Shanghai.

With Denver’s lyrics in mind, I am reflecting on the concept of connection as it relates to human life, the planet, and the vast expanse of universe that surrounds us. We are connected through blood, friendship, geography, cultural ties, historical events, the moon and stars above and the air we breathe. We are connected through our similarities and our differences. Yin and Yang, man and woman, good and bad, black and white; diversity is essential for life as we know it.

The study of Cybernetics in nature focuses on separate yet related systems such as organisms, ecologies and even entire societies; these systems are interconnected through a complex feedback loop with multiple layers of heterogeneous, interacting components. Each system has the potential to effect change in another. Even the most subtle act can result in resounding transformation across multiple layers and systems. The teachings of Zen Buddhism maintain that there is a universal path to enlightenment- a meditative state of mindfulness and presence- that connects all living things to each other.

Diversity connects us through rich traditions, distinct cultures and fascinating stories to share. The collective social consciousness tends to neglect the ties that bind us in favor of the differences that tear us apart. Melting pots help us to stay connected while gentrification can foster ignorance. The South Carolina Lowcountry is no exception. Much of what we know and love about the Lowcountry, from the architecture to the plantations, dialect and cuisine, can be traced back to our Caribbean connection, yet for those of us who live and work here the story gets lost amid strip malls, franchises and cookie cutter communities.

Back in 1670 the first group of planters and slaves set sail from Speightstown in Northern Barbados, landing at Albemarle Point on the Ashley River, where the British colony of Charles Towne was settled. With its haunting beautiful coastline, soothing balmy breezes, streets dripping with lush tropical foliage, classic single homes representing all the colors of the rainbow, and the Gullah dialect- a derivative of West Africa- it is impossible to deny that the heart and soul of the Caribbean still runs through Charleston’s veins.

Names like Gibbes, Yeamans, Drayton and Middleton are reminiscent of Charleston’s Caribbean roots, as Charleston was settled in part by English- born Barbadian planters and enslaved Africans. They brought to us the plantation system which became the lifeblood of Charleston’s economy until the end of the Civil War. Thomas Drayton and his wife Ann left Barbados for Charles Towne and established Magnolia Plantation in 1679. The Drayton family owned the property for the next 300 years. At the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775, Magnolia was at the height of rice planting season. Several Drayton sons became involved in the war, with William Henry Drayton taking a leading role. In 1779, the plantation was ransacked by British General Augustine Prevost. John Drayton fled the plantation with his family, but suffered a seizure and died while crossing the Cooper River.

When my husband and I visited Peaches and Quiet on the Southern tip of Barbados several months ago, the Carolina-Barbados connection was readily apparent. On our departure day, we felt sorry for a family from Toronto as they braced themselves for a return to frigid temperature, while the only icy blast that awaited us was the one inside our own freezer. Perhaps it was the warm breezes drifting off the sea, the tropical flowers and emerald palms scattered like rainbow sprinkles, or the sense of tranquility enveloping my body and soul, that reminded me of Charleston. We owe much of this gift to the early settlers from Barbados and their descendents who fought for so hard for our independence, braving the elements to weave a beautiful new tapestry from the original threads of their lush island home.

Peaches and Quiet is charming and unassuming. British owners Adrian and Margaret Loveridge have created a tropical sanctuary where simple elegance meets natural beauty and their story is one of passion and determination. After 42 years working in the tourism industry, Adrian was in bad need of a holiday. He surprised his wife Margaret with a three week trip to Barbados, where the couple rented a car and explored the island. When they stepped onto the grounds of Peaches of Quiet, a divine spark was ignited. They both knew that despite the dilapidated condition of the hotel, the place held a special kind of magic. Adrian explained how the incredible view and whitewashed Moorish architecture spoke to him, compelling him to return the next day. “I believe that buildings have souls,” Adrian stated. After spending several days inside his tropical oasis where balmy breezes never quit and the turquoise sea crashes against the craggy edges of coral and sandstone cliffs rising straight out of the sea, I understood precisely what he meant.

Within four days after first setting foot on the premises, the couple decided to purchase the hotel. Margaret arranged to sell her home in England while a British bank promised to finance 90% of the purchase, but subsequently pulled out of the deal. Many people would have called it quits right about here. Instead, a couple who never even considered purchasing a hotel, felt so drawn to the place that they could not imagine turning back. Adrian approached 27 different banks pleading for assistance before finding relief in the most unlikely of places- a former business rival turned friend who offered to float him the money. Now twenty years later, they continue to face a multitude of challenges and obstacles, from a scarcity of materials and supplies on the island (Adrian admits he would do anything for a Home Depot) to cultural differences in work ethic.

Peaches and Quiet was built in 1973, when a wealthy Canadian hired English architect Ian Morrison to build the hotel of his dreams. When the original owner fell into severe debt, an old sea captain acquired the place on auction. Legend has it that the hotel housed the first gambling room, where the Prime Minister of Barbados, Tom Adams, enjoyed the camaraderie of gentlemen and a constant supply of beautiful women. By the time Adrian and Margaret acquired the hotel in 1988, the hotel’s 17 buildings spread over 4.5 acres were in horrible disrepair. Every roof had to be replaced, the pool required refurbishing and, according to Margaret, the place was “Overgrown and unloved.” Despite the challenges, the couple shared a joint vision and devoted their lives to turning their vision into a reality.

Margaret and Adrian’s service philosophy is reflected in their honesty bar, where guests help themselves to unlimited rum punch, beer, water and sodas throughout the day while keeping track of their own tab. This is by far the best value on the island, as Adrian and Margaret live by the philosophy of under promise and over deliver. The 22 guest suites are simple, clean and comfortable. The buffet style breakfast is simple and satisfying if you don’t mind sharing with the gorgeous birds and friendly resident cats roaming the premises. The dinners are low key, leisurely and romantic. We dined in the soft glow of candlelight with a blanket of twinkling stars above. Margaret promotes a healthy wine list that will satisfy even the most selective of connoisseurs. The dinner menu changes daily with a choice of meat or seafood. The majority of ingredients are locally grown, the sauces are savory and light, and the fresh baked breads are well worth the extra carbohydrates.

Sitting with Margaret as I listened to her story, I wished we could extend our visit just a little longer. “We put everything we have into this property, and despite the challenges, I still believe in the beauty of this place.” Margaret looked off into the distance, as if reflecting back on the past twenty years of her life, which in many ways were as jagged and unforgiving as the stone cliffs that surrounded the edge of the sea before us. With acres of lemon, lime, and grapefruit trees, multitudes of tropical flowers and sounds of the crashing surf, I could begin to see this place through Margaret’s eyes and connect with her vision. “We are not here to make a lot of money,” Margaret stated. “As long as we have a roof over our head, good food in our tummy and a glass of wine in our hands, we are happy, and we believe the same is true for our guests.”

I thought of my own home back in Charleston and the shared history of the South Carolina Lowcountry and this lush Caribbean island. I guess that is all any of us really need, I thought to myself- delicious food, the ocean breeze and plenty of good wine. We are all connected in more ways than we even realize, and we have so many stories to share. I soaked in the beauty of my surroundings for one final moment and prepared for a long journey back across the sea.

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